Snakes on a Plane has the good sense to provide the titular snakes on the titular plane and not much else. It's not a great bad movie or a decent film--it's an average bad film, the kind-of movie you see on TBS all the fucking time. The great relief is that, besides the obligatory "motherfuckers" spoken by (and clearly re-shot by) Samuel L. Jackson, it doesn't wink too much at the audience, letting them do their own nudge-nudging. Jackson, in fact, provides a sturdy anchor for all the improbability... and, good God is David Koechner a god-damned relief whenever he's onscreen, wasted as he is. The rest of the characters are pretty weak and bland, one-dimensional archetypes representing segments of society like the cast of one of those disaster movies from the 70s (did Airport '77 have it so good/bad?). During the first act, when the film establishes these, um, characters, it's nigh-well intolerable and anytime the action slows down to focus on the emotional turmoil of these stand-ins for humanity, the dullness is depressing.
It reveals that not much has changed in the slasher-movie paradigm. Have sex? Die. Do drugs? Die. Are snobby? Die. Fat? Die die die! The only thing that seems to have changed is that "The Brother" doesn't die first and "the sissy" is found to be useful and not some sort-of burden to the brute masculinity needed to overwhelm the snakes (sorry right wing fundies...Snakes on a Plane is the official death-knell to your anti-gay crusading...the zeitgeist has officially shifted). The movie has a few fun geek-show gore moments where people die in surprising and graphic ways, but completely misses the chance to have some visceral bloodthirsty, vengeance-filled snake-deaths. With one or two exceptions (including a shout-out to Gremlins), anytime the movie offs a snake, it's vague, unclear, and coy about it. Call me human, but when I see a poisonous snake bite a man in the junk, I want to see that motherfucking snake get his motherfucking head bitten off in all the gory detail.
The movie plants some seeds that could have really blossomed into some absurd and delightfully logic-free moments. But it's playing it far too safe to launch into the stratosphere of absurdity. Why introduce the kickboxer if you're not going to use him? Sure, he gets a moment of heroism, but what he does is so average that you'd believe any other character could do the same thing. The premise itself is ridiculous enough that I wouldn't have minded seeing a kickboxer kick-boxing his way through the snake-pile--I would have relished it. And why build up the entrance of the bizarre-looking croc-o-snake (or, if you will, allisnaker), a giant constrictor with two rows of teeth accompanied by Jaws-esque music, if you're not going to have the passengers or Jackson or even the girl with the dog have a show-down with this behemoth?
If one is interested in seeing this film, it is imperative to see it opening weekend with the amped up, self-aware, irony-soaked crowd of youngsters ready to cheer, chortle, and mock the very things that are usually taken for granted in movies of this ilk. I was fascinated that the crowd, primed by months and months of Snakes on a Plane internet jokery, was ready to lambast any moment of the film that tried to be genuine. I wondered if this would have been the case, absent the months and months of buildup. And I wished that everyone would watch all of movies with such a generous, yet critical eye as the audience turned toward Snakes on a Plane. The world would be better off if audiences could be counted on to sneer and boo at, say, Tom Cruise during some of the schmaltzier Mission: Impossible 3 moments the way they did when Samuel L. Jackson advised Julianna Margulies to stay strong.
Anyway, Snakes on a Plane does deliver some effective and compelling snakes-on-a-plane peril. It's a sometimes fun goofball film that, despite earning instant kitsch status, will probably fade from memory like a silly dream had four years ago. It reminded me of the Kurt Russell vehicle Executive Decision more than once. Even that barely-average film had the capacity to wring applause from the crowd as the nerdy Kurt Russell, sweating like Robert Hays, semi-successfully landed a huge commercial airliner. This movie climaxes on a nearly identical note and it's just as stupid and yet rewarding. We're living in a post-9/11 world now and we could all use a United 93 that ends on a happy note. Well, for most of us. The sex couple, the peeing man, and that fat lady clearly had it coming.
Friday, August 18, 2006